Mining the News (2/23/21)

This Friday night is the Beat Jeff Zimmerman league at the NFBC. Join up if you dare.

American League

Blue Jays

Trent Thornton had loose bodies removed from his arm and plans on focusing just on four pitches.

Shortly thereafter, Thornton underwent surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow. The procedure was performed in Florida by prominent orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who removed four bone fragments, two of which were about the size of a molar tooth. Dr. Andrews stored them in a cup for Thornton, who then gifted them to his mom, Patty.

Thornton naturally has a high spin rate on his fastball and breaking balls. In the past, he’s deployed a six-pitch repertoire, but he said the focus this year is on his fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup …

Holy cow, he was pitching will a couple of molar-sized bone fragments in his elbow. Craziness.

As for the pitch mix change, it is completely understandable. Here are his individual pitch career results so far.

Trent Thornton’s Pitch Mix
Pitch Usage SwStr% GB%
Fourseam (FA) 43% 6.7% 25%
Cutter (FC) 16% 15.1% 40%
Slider (SL) 15% 13.4% 33%
Curveball (CU) 13% 11.6% 41%
Splitter (FS) 9% 8.9% 54%
Sinker (SI) 3% 7.9% 35%

He could see a bump in his strikeout rate (8.7 K/9 for his career) and a few more flyballs (32% GB%).

Thomas Hatch is being stretched out as a starter.

In Summer Camp last July, pitching coach Pete Walker said that right-hander Thomas Hatch was the “sleeper of the group.”

Walker nailed that one. Hatch pitched to a 2.73 ERA as a rookie, and now that he’s being stretched back out as a starter in Spring Training, that opens up some doors given his mound presence and MLB-caliber arsenal.

Hatch has an above-average four-seamer (10% SwStr%), change (20% SwStr%), and slider (17% SwStr%). These are all great, but those were short relief appearances. In his only start, he averaged 1 mph slower than his relief appearances.

Additionally, he needs to find the plate. A 4.4 BB/9 from a 45% Zone% is not going to cut it. Monitor for progress.

Indians

Shane Bieber has reworked his slider.

Bieber said he revamped his slider this winter in a bid to make it a dependable strikeout pitch to pair with his curveball, the pitch that forced hitters into hideous swing after hideous swing last season.

“I love my curveball and I don’t want to steer away from it,” Bieber said, “but having another breaking pitch that’s doing something else and giving hitters a different look will be big for me.”

When he threw it last season, it had a 17% SwStr%. R.I.P. his opponents.

Orioles

• The starting infield is projected to be Yolmer Sánchez at second, Freddy Galvis at short, and Rio Ruiz at third.

Newly acquired prospect Jahmai Jones will play some outfield, but he is being viewed primarily as a second baseman, Hyde said. Yolmer Sanchez has the inside track at the position, Hyde said, with Freddy Galvis pegged as the everyday shortstop and Ruiz the leading candidate to start at third. Hyde said Ruiz will be given “every chance” to win the third-base job again, though competition could come from No. 26 prospect Rylan Bannon.

Royals

Brad Keller is looking to feature a changeup.

Keller fine-tuned some pitches, too, including his changeup — a pitch he hasn’t relied on much. He threw his changeup 38 times in 2019 (1.4%) and 17 times in ’20 (2%), but the 25-year-old said the success he had with it — he threw it all to left-handers and did not allow a hit — helped build confidence throwing the pitch.

Adding a third pitch would be huge for him. He threw 22 of them last season with a 9% Swstr%. Here is one for reference.

Tigers

Miguel Cabrera may get some reps at first base.

Hinch is indeed serious about Miguel Cabrera playing some first base this year. Cabrera arrived in camp Saturday and was photographed taking grounders at first. Hinch says he could see Cabrera playing in the field once or twice a week this year. That will allow him to rotate other players in at DH and generally give the lineup a little more flexibility. “What I won’t do is break him,” Hinch said. “I’m not interested in playing him so much at first base that it hinders his availability the rest of the week.”

I have no faith Cabrera will get the needed games to gain first base eligibility but it’s possible. As a Util-only bat with his limited talent, he’s probably not worth rostering as a streaming option. With the ability to fill in the corner-infield shot, he’s a little more interesting.

Twins

Kenta Maeda is adding a new pitch.

Maeda noted to Japanese media on Thursday that he’s looking to add another primary pitch to his arsenal. He relied on his slider, split changeup and four-seam fastball last season in a unique mix in which he threw the offspeed pitches a combined 68 percent of the time and only turned to the fastball on 18.8 percent of pitches — the opposite of traditional usage for most.

Maeda may not be like countryman Yu Darvish, who seems to introduce a new pitch every other day, but Johnson said that Maeda has a similar ability to quickly adapt to different offerings. The focus revolves around three possibilities: a cutter, two-seam fastball or curveball.

We’ll see what he’s throwing in Spring Training.

Mitch Garver’s swing last year was hampered by an injury.

Catcher Mitch Garver, who slugged .264 in an injury-shortened 2020 — a year removed from a 2019 campaign in which he hit 31 homers and slugged .630 — made some discoveries about his swing after the season ended. Garver missed 27 games in late August and early September with a low-grade right intercostal strain.

“There were some things I couldn’t do last year because of the intercostal,” he said Saturday. “We kind of picked that apart early in the offseason, that maybe I wasn’t able to do certain moves I needed to because I was subconsciously guarding it or it was hurting or it was not in the right spot. So we made those adjustments early in the offseason.”

Garver’s strikeout rate almost doubled (24% to 46%) to pair with a career-low ISO (just .097). There seems to a definite cause for his struggles, so how much will he bounce back. It’s not going to be to the .995 OPS of 2019, but his projections have him in the .750 to .800 OPS range which seems reasonable.

Matt Shoemaker is the 5th starter.

The Twins are counting on it. Not only did they bring Shoemaker in on a one-year, $2 million deal, but they’re already prepared to pencil him into their starting five as Spring Training begins, manager Rocco Baldelli said. If everyone remains healthy, that already resolves what could otherwise have been a competition for the fifth rotation spot that could also have involved young right-hander Randy Dobnak.

So expect Randy Dobnack to join the rotation by mid-April when Shoemaker heads off to the IL.

White Sox

Andrew Vaughn could make the club out of Spring Training.

Personally, I think he’ll get the two-week delay to work on his [Fill in the blank] statement and then get called up.

Yankees

Jonathan Loaisiga will not be considered as a rotation option.

Jonathan Loaisiga is being viewed as a reliever this spring, according to Boone, who said that the right-hander could offer versatility by providing high-leverage innings or length.

National League

Braves

Jake Lamb could play third base and face some right-handed hitters.

Lamb could provide backup at both corner-infield spots and serve as a lefty pinch hitter with pop. Though first baseman Freddie Freeman rarely comes out of the lineup unless injured, the Braves could have Lamb replace third baseman Austin Riley against some right-handers.

So the right-handed hitting Austin Riley could lose some at-bats? Here is how the pair’s handedness splits compare over the years.

Name: OPS vsL/vR
Lamb: .599, .805
Riley: .910, .684

There is the chance for a really good platoon. The deal is that Lamb has struggled last season with his OPS versus righties at .617. While Riley projects to be the better hitter, there is a chance he ends up on the short side of a platoon as the Braves make a playoff push.

Cristian Pache and Ender Inciarte are in a battle for the center field job.

While Snitker might not want to formally describe the position battle as a competition, Pache is coming to Spring Training with a chance to open the season as the Braves center fielder. If he wins the job, Inciarte would become an expensive fourth outfielder, whose primary role would be to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for Marcell Ozuna.

Will Smith struggled to get going in 2020 because of his COVID IL stint.

After not throwing off a mound or to a catcher during baseball’s three-month shutdown, then missing all of summer camp — or spring training 2.0, as it was sometimes referred to — Smith didn’t have the same command of his slider during his first month off the COVID-19 list.

It took a month, but he started getting results and commanding a sharp slider that again baffled hitters the way it had in previous years.

Smith allowed one hit and one walk in his next six appearances before giving up a homer in the Braves’ season finale. In the postseason, he worked 5 1/3 hitless, walk-free innings in his first five appearances before giving up a run each in Games 4 and 5 of the seven-game NL Championship Series loss against the Dodgers. The damage included a surrendered home run in his final appearance.

In the first half, he posted a 12% K%-BB% but it jumped to 27% in the second half.

Diamondbacks

Luke Weaver ditched his cutter for a traditional slider.

He played with different grips for the cutter, which he thinks of more as a slider now, soliciting advice from pitchers he knows, including former Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray. He watched video of sliders he admires, like the ones belonging to Mets starters Marcus Stroman and Jacob deGrom.

The power slider from deGrom, whom Weaver described as “a very awesome pitcher,” offers a platonic ideal — it isn’t a big, sweeping pitch but one that is “short and tight” and can be thrown in the zone. That was the idea behind Weaver’s cutter to begin with, but deGrom’s has more break, which the right-hander thinks will give him much-needed breathing room in the zone.

If he could get an average or better non-fastball to pair with his change, he could take a major step forward.

Stefan Crichton has a chance to be the closer.

Stefan Crichton took over the closer’s role last September after the D-backs traded Archie Bradley to the Reds, and while the team recently signed veteran right-hander Joakim Soria, who has 223 career saves, Lovullo said he wants to give Crichton a chance to compete for the role this spring.

I sort of wrote Crichton off as a closing candidate. I’m a little more interested in him now as a late-round add.

• This article is loaded with playing time considerations focusing on Ketel Marte, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Eduardo Escobar, Tim Locastro, and Daulton Varsho.

Cabrera, it seems, will be playing mostly third base, according to Lovullo.

Does that mean Escobar moves to second and Ketel Marte spends most of his time patrolling center field? Not quite. Though Lovullo said he expects Cabrera to take a significant number of plate appearances, perhaps akin to Daniel Descalso’s roughly 400 plate appearances a season in two years in Arizona, the manager also said “Eduardo Escobar is our third baseman.”

Though Cabrera is a switch-hitter, Hazen highlighted the veteran’s ability to hit left-handed pitching, which was an area of need for the Diamondbacks this winter. That would suggest a bit of a switch-hitter shuffle whenever the Diamondbacks are facing southpaws. Cabrera could start that day at third, moving Escobar to second. Marte could move from second to center. Against right-handers, Cabrera could come off the bench. That would shift Marte back to second and Escobar back to third, with perhaps the left-handed-hitting Daulton Varsho or, if the Diamondbacks are not concerned about the platoon disadvantage, the righty-batting Tim Locastro in center.

What seems clear at this point, and what a different type of free-agent addition might have precluded, is that Marte will go back to playing both second and center as he did in his breakout 2019 season.

What a mess but some positional eligibilities could be added. In leagues where Marte lost outfield eligibility, he’ll gain it back. Also, Escobar could gain second base.

For all the switch-a-roo to end, it seems like Cabrera or Locastro need to get hot and for the other one go to bench. Until then, neither is rosterable.

Giants

Logan Webb could start the season in the minors.

Kapler has deferred comment on the updated rotation outlook until Sanchez’s deal becomes official, though he didn’t rule out the possibility that Webb could start the season at Triple-A Sacramento.

Nationals

Yan Gomes is expected to start 100 games.

With the departure of Kurt Suzuki in free agency, Yan Gomes has been tasked with catching more for the Nationals than he has in the past. Martinez projected it will be in the range of 100 games, and Gomes is up for the assignment in his 10th season.

Padres

• The team could use a six-man rotation to start the season.

It seems entirely possible that the Padres open the season with a six-man rotation — especially considering they open the year with 24 games in 25 days. In that case, Adrian Morejon is the likeliest candidate for the extra spot. The 21-year-old lefty is being stretched toward a starter’s workload, though he won’t be expected to work past five innings.

Great, almost no two-start weeks for Darvish and Snell and Lamet and Paddack and Musgrove.

Chris Paddack spent the offseason working on his fastball’s spin.

Paddack spent part of the offseason making those numbers part of his vernacular. In short, he learned that his fastball spin rate was lower in 2020 than it had been in the past. More importantly, the nature of his spin was different, too.

While the velocity on his fastball ticked up 0.2 mph, he lost 60 rpm. With less spin-induced rise, the pitch’s swinging-strike rate dropped from 10% to 8% while its groundball rate increased from 28% to 42%.

Phillies

Scott Kingery had and has a lot going on.

So, Kingery wears contact lenses now. A slight prescription. It’s a start.

But Kingery had already added weight. He came to spring training last February at 194 pounds, well above his typical playing weight. He had tailored his swing to generate more lift and he was bulkier to support that approach.

“As soon as I got cleared from COVID, it was the middle of summer camp, so I just jumped right back into things. I was like, ‘I’m behind. I have to get in there.’ I think by doing that, I put too much stress on my body and tweaked a couple of things.”

First, I just noted a few of the highlights so go read the entire article.

As for items changing his value.

  • He’s now wearing contact after seeing a blurry ball for a while
  • He planned on increasing his launch angle.
  • A bout with COVID kept him out of Summer Camp and he ended up playing hurt.

So, he tried to improve his swing and eyesight, but a bought with COVID and injuries prevented the improvements from taking hold. At an NFBC ADP of 324, take a chance he corrects his strikeout rate and becomes a 20/20 contributor.

Reds

Shogo Akiyama will sometimes play against lefty starters.

“I’d like to see [Akiyama] get that opportunity to play more, to face left-handers,” Bell said. “We know he can do it. He’s done that in Japan. As far as the position breakdown, I don’t know that it matters that much, just because he’s such a good outfielder. He can play all three positions. I think we have to use that. His willingness to do that is really important. When he doesn’t play a particular position or when he doesn’t face a left-handed pitcher, it’s not a knock or reflection on Shogo. That’s because of our confidence and belief in one of our other players or hitters.”

As of right now, Akiyama has no fantasy value.

Rockies

Josh Fuentes could play third base or in the outfield.

Right-handed-hitting Josh Fuentes batted .306 last year and provided standout defense to usurp now-retired Daniel Murphy, but the signings of Cron and Bird suggest the Rockies envision a multiposition role for Fuentes, who plays third base and the outfield.

The Rockies do such bizarre things, I’m going to hold off on making any major valuation changes until I see what lineups they are going to use.





Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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merkel
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merkel

If Riley ends up on the short side of a platoon with Jake Lamb… kill me now.